As thousands of parents and children watched, eight women dangling high above a ring at a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance in Providence, R.I., on Sunday crashed some 30 feet to the ground when the harness from which they were hanging suddenly collapsed.
The eight performers fell atop a dancer in the ring. All nine were taken to a hospital, according to a statement from Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros.
Many in the crowd of about 4,000 at the Dunkin' Donuts Center gasped and screamed when the performers plummeted, arms and legs flailing, as garish circus music played on and vendors hawked hot dogs and ice cream.
No spectators were injured in the crash, said Peter Gaynor, director of the Providence Emergency Management Agency. The performers suffered serious injuries, but they appeared to be non-life-threatening, he said.
Seven people were admitted to Rhode Island Hospital, including one person in critical condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Known as the "hanging hair act," the performance began in the darkened arena during the circus' 11 a.m. show with all nine women hidden behind a curtain illuminated by colored spotlights. As the curtain was bathed in deep blue light, then magenta, it dropped to reveal the aerialists, who appeared to be suspended from their hair around a large circular cone hanging from rigging.
A split second later, the cone let go, sending them to the ground, Gaynor said.
At first some spectators were confused, wondering if what they had just seen was part of the act. In a YouTube video of the accident, an audience member can be heard saying, "Were they supposed to fall like that?"
But it soon was clear that something had gone horribly awry. "They all fell, Mommy. They all fell," one girl said on the video.